Bat Mitzvah

Updated on September 29, 2012
M.F. asks from Englewood, CO
8 answers

Hello Mamas! I know someone out there will know the etiquette for a Bat Mitzvah. I am honored to have been invited to a friends daughters Bat Mitzvah, however I have no clue as to what I am doing. I need advice on what to wear and what to give as a gift. I was brought up as an Episcopalian where showing the shoulders is a no no in church and I belong to a Non Denominational Church now and I can basically where what ever I want. I am sure there has to be some guidelines and I really do not want to offended anyone. Please educate this gentile!

Thank you!

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answers from Denver on

Much depends on if the event is a Dinner Dance (formal) or a party (semi dressy) but look nice.

The gift is something for a 13 year old----jewerly, music gift certificates etc. Just like for any other 13 year old.

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answers from Boston on

I'm Jewish so I think I've been to more bar/bat mitzvahs than most rabbis! Anyway, dress as you would for church. Sleeveless is okay but I wouldn't do bare shoulders, although you will see some girls there who dress inappropriately. Synagogues try to get the bat mitzvah kid to wear something over a bare-shouldered party dress such as a jacket or shrug, but also it is becoming more and more common to see girls wearing a "tallit" which is a prayer shawl which will cover the shoulders. (By the way, you will see people in the congregation wearing those, but you should not as it is strictly for adult Jews. They will also have a supply of head coverings - either yarmulkes -skullcaps - or sometimes small circles of lace for women. That's completely optional.)

If there's a luncheon afterwards, a "casual church" outfit is fine, as is a suit. You can wear slacks if you prefer. If there is an evening party, after a morning service, then you can dress up more for that.

For the service, ideally they will tell you what's going on and either have a handout for the non-Jewish guests or have the rabbi explain as the service moves along. Anyway, the prayer book is in English and Hebrew - if you want to read the English in the group parts, go ahead - nothing will be against what you believe in your church as it's from your "Old Testament". (Note that the book goes right to left, so you'll go from "back" to 'front". Stand when they stand, sit when they sit. You don't have to do anything else. They will process around the synagogue with the Torah scroll - many Jews will touch the scroll with their hand or prayerbook, but you won't. Just stand and watch the procession, smile at the family, etc.

Cash gifts are frequently given in multiples of $18, because the Hebrew letters for the word "life" are also used for numbers, and in this case it's $18. So gifts of $18, $36, $54, $72 etc. are common. Give what you can afford - it's based on your relationship. Some people give 7-year savings bonds because they mature when the kid is in college and she can't spend it now. My son LOVED redeeming those - he appreciated it more at age 21 even though he didn't completely "get it" at 13! You can also give jewelry - such as a Jewish star necklace/earrings (available at Jewish gift shops or on line. You can give Jewish items as well, but note that almost all synagogues give a girl her first set of candlesticks for the Sabbath, so I wouldn't do that. You can also give secular gifts - jewelry, gift cards, etc. A picture frame is nice too.

The party/luncheon/dinner is basically a secular event - they may have a buffet or a sit-down, but there's nothing you really need to know about that. There is often a candle-lighting ceremony where the kids lights 13 (or 14) candles on the cake and invites others to participate. Grandparents light a candle, parents, sometimes friends & neighbors - often the kid says a few lines about each person and why they're important. You can participate if asked - it's not religious, just a tradition. Otherwise, if they have a DJ,, they will play "hava nagila" and everyone will dance the hora (you don't have to know what you're doing - just hold hands and everyone else will pull you around in the circle with them) and they'll put the kid on a chair and lift her up a few times. Done.

If you need any other advice or have questions about the service and what she'll be doing, feel free to PM me.

Someone mentioned that the service will be very long. Depends on the synagogue. If it's a Reform synagogue, it will be about 1.5-2 hours. Get there when it starts. If it's a Conservative synagogue and the service starts at 9 a.m., you probably don't have to get there then - often the rabbi won't show up until 10, because the cantor does the whole first section. You will see congregants as well as guests arriving anytime from 10-10:30 on, and the service will go until noon-ish. It's perfectly okay for you to leave to go to the ladies room or get a drink of water or stretch your legs. It's easiest to leave when everyone is standing FYI. You can ask the family since you are good friends what the deal is.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

On dress. I agree it depends on the synagogue. You could always ask your friend. I am sure she would not be offended. It also depends on whether there is a party immediately after the Bat Mitzvah and how dressy the party is. You sometimes have to dress a little dressier if it is a dressy party. So if it is a morning service you just dress like you would to go to church. If it is an afternoon service.... consider the party.

Keep the shoulders covered in the synagogue.

Gift is whatever you like. There is no right or wrong. If you decide on money then it depends on your community and your relationship to the family. Anything from $36-$150! For example, if one of your children was going alone to a Bat/Bar Mitzvah at age 13 to a casual friend then $18 would be appropriate. 18 is called a chai and meaningful - meant to bring good luck! That's why the $36 (a double chai) for a nicer gift.

Spend what you are comfortable with and don't worry about it. I doubt your friend will. And it doesn't have to be money. Knit a shawl, movie tickets, or a gift certificate to a store the young girl would enjoy is fine too.

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answers from Dallas on

Every synagogue is different as to what is acceptable to wear, but I would err on the side of caution and dress on the conservative side. Slacks and a nice blouse, a dress (with a sweater or shawl if it has no sleeves), or a skirt and blouse would be acceptable. Most people give money as a gift at bar/bat mitzvahs. Close family members and friends might give sentimental gifts such as a Star of David necklace, or something, but I think money is your best bet. The amount is up to your discretion - whatever you are comfortable with. I am going to a bar mitzvah next weekend for a boy whose family is a member of my synagogue, and I just know them from there. I am giving a card with $20. Just for an example.

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answers from Boston on

In my circle, only close friends and family go to the actual service as it is quite long. If you do want to go you can (I personally find them very interesting) but you don't have to go to the service. If you go to the service, dress as you would if you were a wedding guest and I would say that covering up your shoulders would be a safe bet - I've seen lots of girls wear strapless dresses to the party but the ones who went to temple would wear a sweater over the dress. Boys/men wear suits.

The party is what everyone goes to. Around here, the parties are like mini weddings or middle school proms - plated dinner or formal buffet, assigned seating, centerpieces and party favors, a band or DJ, dancing, full bar etc. You can usually tell by the venue - if it's at a restaurant or function hall, it will be a pretty big deal kind of party. If it's in the basement of the temple, it will be a low-key thing.

For a gift, we usually give $50 - $100 depending on how close we are to the guest and how many of us are going, but it's usually 2 of my teens going (so a gift from two kids) or the family. There is a Jewish tradition to give in multiples of $18 because 18 is the symbol for life - so $36, $54, $72 etc.

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answers from San Francisco on

My kids have gone to several of these. The girls (and women, I suppose?) are asked to have their shoulders covered while in the temple (easily done with a light sweater or shrug if your dress is sleeveless.) Other than that it was similar to attending a wedding, nice dresses for the ladies and jackets/ties for the gents :)
Don't be shy about asking your friend about it if you feel like you don't get enough information here, she willed be thrilled to talk about it with you, it's a VERY big and exciting event for their family!

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answers from Cumberland on

Not sure about Colorado-but where I used to live, Montgomery Co, MD-the rule was to overdress and buy a lavish gift or give money-lots of it! There were parents that would spend $500k on their daughter's Bat Mitzvah!



answers from New York on

Wow - in rading some of the responses it's clear that NY area bat mitzvahs are very different than the rest of the country - as are weddings. NYers lose their minds and all perspective when they begin to have any kind of catered event. Around here the parties are all themed - and gifts are always / only money. Since they spend a fortune on these parties $18 would never be appropriate unless it's in addition to a check for $50 (from another 13 school friend who is there by herself) but $100 or more for anyone closer to the child.

Hopefully folks in Colorado are more appropriate and normal. But these days with TV shows promoting excess you never know. having been to all kind of events over the years ranging from weddings in castles with only cake & punch (not even coffee, tea or a champage punch) to elabaorate first holy communion parties with full bars, DJ's and sit down dinner for 150 people I've learned to bring a card filled out but unsealed with my checkbook in my handbag and once there I slip into the ladies room to write out a check that's appropriate to the setting. I know it sounds tacky but I hate to be the person giving a cheap or extravagant gift!

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